The Egyptian government and its ruling Freedom and Justice Party, along with various figures within the Muslim Brotherhood, criticized a tweet by the US Embassy in Cairo this week. The tweet in question focused on Egypt’s clampdown on freedom of expression, referring explicitly to the case of popular satirist Bassem Youssef.
Statements issued by various Brotherhood members gave the impression that the US government is seeking to antagonize Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, but this is patently not true. We do not know US president Obama’s view of the Mursi government or whether he is satisfied or apprehensive with its performance; however, what is certain is that Obama prefers a hands-off approach. This is probably in the Egyptian people’s best interests, allowing them to manage their own affairs. However, the US president’s long silence on what has been happening in Egypt gives the political opposition the impression that he consents to the actions of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Muslim Brotherhood, for their part, are keen to let the rest of the world know that America is satisfied with them, particularly as this serves to send a message to their opponents at home and abroad. On the other hand, the Brotherhood are also seeking to portray themselves as victims of a universal conspiracy, particularly as this is the discourse that they relied on in the past, garnering them popular support and embarrassing their opponents.
Historically speaking, the Muslim Brotherhood has never been an enemy of the US, but rather an ally over a period of thirty years during the Nasser and Sadat eras. They were part of the same Arab, Saudi and Jordanian camp which opposed left-wing organizations and governments. Clashes took place, and indeed continue to take place, over Israel.
As for America’s surface position, US State Department spokespersons have always objected to the policies that the Mubarak regime adopted against the Muslim Brotherhood in terms of arresting their members and banning their publications.
I am not claiming that the Muslim Brotherhood is working with the US, even though this is a popular conspiracy theory among certain segments of society. Nor is it true to say that the US government opposes the Brotherhood and is working to topple its rule. On the contrary, several American political theorists argue that it is better for Washington to forge alliances with Islamist groups within partisan frameworks, supporting Islamist governments like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Ennahda in Tunisia. They claim that this is far more beneficial to the US than supporting liberal or nationalist groups, particularly in light of this Islamic extremist tide that is preoccupying the West.
The Muslim Brotherhood, especially in Egypt, worked hard to convince the US that they are the best faction among the Islamists. In fact, several American political writers have been convinced of this view and are now praising the Brotherhood while at the same time criticizing other Islamist factions like the Salafists.
The problem with the Muslim Brotherhood is that their actual discourse is not always in line with the impression that they want to put forward. The manner in which the Mursi government is running Egypt today has shocked many, including Muslim intellectuals and Western observers. The policies adopted by this government have fascist dimensions. Fascism, whether under a religious or nationalist façade, is something that is not acceptable in this day and age, whether in Egypt or abroad.
It is still too early to describe Mursi’s government as a fascist one, particularly as it is in its early stages; however, all signs indicate that it is heading towards totalitarianism.
As for the Americans, their policies are determined by their own interests. Mursi’s government has not done anything to arouse US concerns. On the contrary, its positions are more pragmatic and reconciliatory than those adopted by the Mubarak regime. An example of this can be seen in the destruction of tunnels and regulation of border crossings between Egypt and Gaza. Even though this is the military’s job, the Muslim Brotherhood has not voiced any objections. This indicates their tacit agreement to these policies, despite the anger of the Hamas leadership.
The US will be content if Egypt continues to cooperate on regional issues and distances itself from Iranian adventures, despite the Cairo–Tehran rapprochement.
Therefore, attempting to accuse the American embassy of interference in Egyptian domestic affairs for objecting to the media clampdown is part of the domestic game of trading incrimination. Mursi’s government wants to accuse its adversaries of collaboration with foreign powers, and this is a policy that those whom Mursi is wagging his finger at are well aware of.